Artwork: Imagined Geographies, 2015
A project by Katy and Rebecca Beinart
Imagined Geographies was an installation of four sculptures that highlight the stories behind a selection of plants in Biddulph Grange Garden, the plant hunters who grew famous for their finds, and the environments that the plants originate from. The sculptures reference James Bateman's approach to constructing the garden at Biddulph, creating imagined worlds based on letters, images and stories of places he had never visited.
The sculptures take as their starting point the structure of a Wardian case, a travelling plant case invented in 1830 which allowed the transportation of exotic plants from around the world that had previously died on long sea crossings. Expanding on the Wardian Case structure, each sculpture tells the story of a particular region that Bateman represented in his garden. The metal frames - based on geometries observed within the garden - hold ceramic landscapes and a selection of plants, inspired by our research into the potteries of the Staffordshire area and archival research into plant hunters' journeys and correspondence with Bateman.
The miniature worlds created through Imagined Geographies reflect on some questions at the heart of Biddulph Grange Garden which seem equally relevant for a 21st century audience. Bateman, Cooke and their network were in living in the midst of changing understandings of the natural world which shook up human belief systems. They were also striving for new knowledge about the world, and trying to imagine places outside their own experience.
The golden era of plant hunting was part of a rapid growth/expansion of knowledge in the natural sciences, and collecting and cataloging were a way of understanding the world more deeply. However, the act of collecting suggests a desire for possession, and the romantic adventure of 'plant hunting' had a violent side, taking place against the background of aggressive British Imperialism. The plants that nurseries and traders were paying the hunters to bring back often played a key role in economic expansion – at the expense of the people and places the plants were being taken from.
The sculptures were created for a commission for the National Trust at Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire.